Three gasholders still stand in the Old Kent Road on the site of the old gas works of the South Metropolitan Gas Company. The South Metropolitan. was to became almost the most important and famous of them all.
1842 is the date of the Company’s Incorporation but the building and operation of the Old Kent Road works dates from 1829 and gas making appears to have begun in 1833. The origins of the South Metropolitan are obscure. The Company seems to have been set up around 1829 by some of the following:
Evan Meredith Roberts also involved with the Imperial Company. A slate nerchant living ‘near Dalston’. Later, in 1846, a ‘Mrs. Evan Roberts’ is listed as living on Brixton Hill -although whether this is his mother, an estranged wife or a widow - or no relation at all - is not known. He might have been married to a Hester Fussell. Further notes can be found under 'Imperial Company'.
Lewis Roberts – Lewis is presumably a relation of Evan, above. His address was given as 'West Hackney' – a place which is far from easy to locate - does it mean Dalston? Family history sources suggest that he was Evan's father.
William Clare, of Charles Street, City of London . A tea agent with a business at 46 Lime Street and a bed making business at 8 Clerkenwell Close
James Davison Habe, bookseller of Old Street, City of London.
William Baker: Middlesex County Coroner 1830s based at 3 Crosby Square. He gave his address as Church Row, Limehouse but his descendants were to live, grandly, at Bayfordbury in Hertfordshire.
George Holgate Foster: ‘Dealer’ of Crutched Friars. One of a family from Lincolnshire who had originally been drysalters and then became commission merchants trading with Brazil and Portugal. In 1852 they formed a bank.
James Foster: Lived Walthamstow.
William Lyall, Lived at St.Mark’s Place, City of London. A potato salesman with a business based in Covent Garden and Cotton's Wharf in Tooley Street.
South Met. had been set up as a 'cannel' gas company – that is making gas from expensive 'cannel' coal to make a richer sort of gas. There are no records for the first five years of the Company and by the time the minute books start in 1834 there had been some sort of dispute. By that time the effective board consisted of the two Fosters, Lyall plus Frederick Blakesley (a tea dealer who lived on Brixton Hill) and William Bailey. The Fosters, and their bank, appear to be backing the Company financially – and this was a situation which was to continue.
Two meetings of Proprietors were held; the second of these under the Chairmanship of Thomas Farncombe. He explained that the two Roberts had been discovered in 'fraudulent behaviour' because a deficit of £11,000 and some false Bill's of Exchange had been uncovered.
A new Deed of Incorporation was set up and the following people are listed as the first proprietors of this new entity. Once again they are largely City and local businessmen - but within those who can be found in directories there are some addresses which centre round particular locations for instance, Brixton Hill and St.John’s Wood as residences. Within the list can be found those who took responsibility for the company over the next fifty years.
Thomas Parkin Jun - shipbroker from Threadneedle Street.
Frederick Blakesley - with a business of some sort in Bishopsgate Street. Later, after he had resigned from the company in 1841, lived on Brixton Hill. He was to be the company’s managing director until 1840, described by Derek Matthews as undertaking this role ‘more or less incompetently’.
Thomas Farncombe - a wharfinger, a Master of the Tallow Chandler’s Company, future Lord Mayor and 'Old Tory Queen'. Lived at 12 Holyard House, Kennington Common but his country home was Rose Hill, Surrey. He came from an ‘Old Sussex landowning family’ and was at one time the ‘largest wharf owner on Surrey side’ ‑ a merchant, shipowner and banker and a magistrate of Surrey and Sussex. He was Lord Mayor of London in 1851 and as such presided at the Great Exhibition.
L S. Baxendale - of the firm of Lloyd and Baxendale, 21 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and 7 Great Winchester Street.
Robert Edward Johnson - of 10 Hamilton Terrace, St.John’s Wood
George Elliott - this is a common name but it is possible that it belongs George Elliott, of Fenchurch Street, described as a chemist and druggist. He bought a wide range of residuals and manufactures from most of the London gas companies from 1830 onwards. In the late 1820s George Elliott had been Chairman of a group of proprietors concerned to root out corruption in the Imperial Gas Company. In 1830 he bought the Imperial Company's failing residuals works at Millwall for a "nominal sum".
Thomas B.Simpson – also involved in the Ratcliffe Company. Lived 6 Albany. He became Vice Chairman of the reconsistuted company and took over as Chairman when Farncombe resigned in 1859. He remained Chairman until 1879 when he retired at the age of 92
Thomas Allen - Thomas Allen wrote a history of Lambeth.
William Maugham - lived 51 Guildford Place, Kennington Lane.
George Park - a cowkeeper of Union Street, Borough Road.
Samuel Bowring. Bowring Brothers - better known in England as Liverpool based ship owners - were originally Newfoundland based with a major interest in a ‘cod fishery’. Some family members founded one of the earliest gas companies in Canada at St.John’s in Newfoundland. While Samuel is not easily identified it must be presumed that he was one of this family.
George Swayne - wine and spirit merchant 19 Abchurch Lane, City. Lived 2 Circus Road, St.John’s Wood.
John Barclay - lived Brixton Hill
Frances Roughton, merchant of Brabant Court, City, lived Clapham Terrace.
Thomas Baxter, Russia Broker of the Baltic Coffee House at the Bank.
Joseph Lidwell Heathron, Change Alley in the City, ship owner, based in Abchurch Lane. Was said to have sailed his own ships. His son became a director in succession and died 23rd January 1911, age 90. He had taken part in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. He took over as Managing Director in 1839 when Blakesley resigned and his son eventually took over as Chairman for a while in 1879 between Simpson’s resignation and George Livesey’s appointment
Alexander Bell, corn factor of Winchester Wharf, Clink Street on Bankside
W.E.D.Cuming - it is tempting to identify this man with the founder of the Southwark Museum (now at Peckham Library) but both the initials and the date are wrong. A William Cuming at this date was a coach maker in the St.John’s Wood area
Charles Henry Stedman, solicitor with a practice in Broad Street in the City.
Samuel Arbouin, wine and spirit broker from Mark Lane in the City of London.
Horton Ledger. Also on the Management Committee of (but not a subscriber to) the abortive Greenwich and Deptford Gas Company. Gave his address as Deptford Bridge.
William Miller Christy. Hat maker and looped towel inventor. See Phoenix Co.
Henry Gaitskill, lived 19 York Place
Richard Addams - lived 22 York Place, Portland Square.
Charles Price – again a common name. However in the same period Sir Charles Price was negotiating for cheaper gas from the Deptford and Rotherhithe Gas Co. Sir Charles Price was the owner of a Millwall based oil distillery (linseed and turpentine) with another works in the Blackfriars area. He was also involved in the Southwark based, Commercial Docks and in a City bank, Price Marryat & Co., of King William Street.
Joseph Ivimey - solicitor of 89 Chancery Lane. Lived 1 Ampthill Square, Hampstead Road.
Benjamin Edgington – Came from Abingdon in Berkshire where he was born in 1794. In 1835 established a marquee making business near London Bridge. Eventually became Britain's largest tent maker based at Charing Cross. Died at The Elms, Tooting in 1869 and is buried in Nunhead Cemetery.
Jonathan Fussell - currier and leather seller, Old Street, living 20 Sidmouth Street. Also lived Stoney Lane House, Little Elm, near Bruton, Somerset. On an American family history web site the names of Evan and Lewis Roberts are given but not otherwide identified, except to say that Evan was married to a Hester Fussell - if this has any meaning at all it might imply that Fussell was a relation of Robert’s wife.
Also - but not identified
Hugh Wade Macauley, Donald Brown, John Stewart, John Whiffen Hooper, Robert lley, Charles Wood, John Sainsbury, John Dagleish, J. B. Langton, P Stubbing, J. L. Burrows, W. Bennett Jnr, Charles Farley, Elizabeth Foster, John Fearnside, George Mitchell, Charles Jacob, R. D. Jacob, John Ware,Thomas Back, T Richardson, John Brown, H. Wane, James Foster, Richard Salisbury, Thomas Black, Charles Newbury, William Dagleish, Thomas Jobling, Stephen Sleasby, Mr Southwell, Richard Price, Joseph Wilkinson, William Bailey, James Carter, Edward Sutor, John Holgate, James Blake, Mary Ann Christy, Samuel Travers, Zachary Layton, Benjamin Williams, Samuel Adams, John Barratt, Charles W. Maxwell, Richard Millhouse, Samuel Hunt, A. Richmond, Benjamin Blake, M. A. Arnold, George Woodcock, Thomas Jenkyn,George Greenwood, Adam Catto
To these must be added someone not in this list - but shortly to become the largest shareholder and one of the most important influences on the future of the company:
Richard Foster. One of the family of bankers, Richard was born in Finsbury and eventually entered the family bank. He eventually moved to Chiselhurst – and throughout his life supported South Met. Gas Co. morally as well as financially. He became very involved in the need for reform in the Church of England and personally financed a programme of church building in deprived areas. Many churches still standing in east and south east London were financed by him. He was influenced by a healer called Robert Brett. He was involved in many financial ventures both in England and overseas – and at the same time with a range of philanthropic organisations.